Sexual misconduct scandals

300 strong: Hollywood women unite to fight harassment

The campaign against sexual harassment is backed by more than 300 show business figures.
Involved with the movement Time's Up, which aims to fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and blue-collar workplaces nationwide, are Hollywood A-listers and actresses such as (clockwise from above left) Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl
Involved with the movement Time's Up, which aims to fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and blue-collar workplaces nationwide, are Hollywood A-listers and actresses such as (clockwise from above left) Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, America Ferrera, Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rashida Jones, Emma Stone, Kerry Washington and Natalie Portman. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

NEW YORK • Driven by a resolve to correct a power imbalance that seemed intractable just months ago, 300 women in Hollywood - including prominent actresses from Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Watson and Cate Blanchett - have formed an initiative to fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and blue-collar workplaces nationwide.

The initiative includes:

• A legal-defence fund, backed by US$13 million (S$17.3 million) in donations, to help less privileged women - such as janitors, nurses and workers at farms, factories, restaurants and hotels - protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.

• Legislation to penalise companies that tolerate persistent harassment and to discourage the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence victims.

• A drive to reach gender parity at studios and talent agencies that has begun making headway.

• A request that women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes speak out and raise awareness by wearing black.

Called Time's Up, the movement was announced on Monday with a pledge of support to working-class women in an open letter signed by hundreds of women in show business: A-listers, agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives.

The letter also ran as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times and in La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper.

Time's Up was formed soon after The New York Times reported in early October that producer Harvey Weinstein had reached multiple settlements with women who had accused him of sexual misconduct. Several of Weinstein's accusers, including actresses Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Salma Hayek, signed the open letter.

"The struggle for women to break in, to rise up the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in maledominated workplaces must end; time's up on this impenetrable monopoly," the letter says.

The group is one answer to the question of how women in Hollywood would respond to cascading allegations that have upended the careers of powerful men.

Time's Up also helps defuse criticism that the spotlight on the #MeToo movement has been dominated by the accusers of high-profile men, while the travails of working-class women have been overlooked.

This was highlighted in November, when an open letter was sent on behalf of 700,000 female farm workers who said they stood with Hollywood actresses in their fight against abuse. Time's Up members said the letter bolstered their resolve to train their efforts on both Hollywood and beyond.

"It's very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven't cleaned our own house," said Shonda Rhimes, executive producer of television series Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, who has been closely involved with the group. "If this group of women can't fight for a model for other women who don't have as much power and privilege, then who can?"

Other Time's Up members include actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Natalie Portman, Rashida Jones, Emma Stone, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon; showrunner Jill Soloway; Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley; lawyer Tina Tchen, who served as former first lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff; and Nike Foundation co-chairman Maria Eitel.

Time's Up is leaderless, run by volunteers and made up of working groups. One group oversaw the creation of a commission, led by lawyer Anita Hill and announced in December, that plans to create a blueprint for ending sexual harassment in show business.

Another group, 50/50 by 2020, is pushing entertainment organisations and companies to agree to reach gender parity in their leadership tiers in two years. It can already claim a victory. In early December, after Rhimes pressed him, ICM Partners managing director Chris Silbermann pledged that his talent agency would meet that goal.

Ms Tchen is leading the Time's Up Legal Defence Fund, which is administered by the National Women's Law Centre's Legal Network for Gender Equity, and will connect female victims of sexual harassment with lawyers. Major donors include Witherspoon, Rhimes, Streep, director Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw.

Time's Up has also been urging women to wear black at the Globes on Sunday, to use the red carpet to speak out against gender and racial inequality.

"This is a moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment," Longoria said. A vast majority of the women who had been contacted and planned to attend the ceremony pledged to participate, she said.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2018, with the headline '300 strong: Hollywood women unite to fight harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe